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Friday, May 14, 2021

A safe place to call home

Since the Sean Humphrey House opened its doors to people with HIV/AIDS in 1996, its mission has changed.

“We’re happy to say people don’t come here to die, they come here to live,” Jeanette Campagna, program coordinator of the Sean Humphrey House, said.

“Back when the house was built, because of the fear of AIDS, we couldn’t even put the sign up in front of the house,” Campagna said. “Now it’s a proud thing. People can look at us as a resource.”

The Sean Humphrey House is an adult family home for those living with HIV/AIDS. It was built to provide a place for those without the monetary means to receive the medical care and comfort they needed before they passed away.

“It’s not just the duties they perform, it’s the zeal and the commitment with which they do those things.”

Roy Sykes, executive director of Sean Humphrey House

Residents have been able to be more a part of the community, Campagna said.

The house is named after Sean Humphrey, a successful chef and restaurant manager from Seattle. He ran SkyCity, the restaurant at the Space Needle, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Palm Desert, California, before being diagnosed with AIDS and moving to Bellingham to be with his family. In 1992, he died of AIDS-related complications.

Thanks to his family, Humphrey was able to have the resources and comfort needed in his last days. His last wish was that a facility be built for those who didn’t have access to the medical care he had, Campagna said.

Four years later, the Sean Humphrey House opened.

The Sean Humphrey House opened in 1996. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger

The house is one of just two HIV/AIDS family homes left in Washington, Campagna said. The staff and volunteers at the house provide services to the six residents who live there.

Roy Sykes is the executive director of the Sean Humphrey House.

“We’re able to be aware of their needs at all times. They have frequent meetings with our nurse, and we assist them with transportation and transport them to medical appointments in the community,” Sykes said. “We have social events for them here at the house, and arrange activities in the community that they participate in.”

Campagna said their residents often suffer from self-isolation.

“When I first came on board, we took them out to Animals As Natural Therapy, and on the way out I had two residents in my vehicle. One of them said, ‘Wow, look at the beautiful landscape,’ and the other said, ‘Look at that beautiful big tree,’” Campagna said. “It dawned on me that they never get out, they don’t get to experience this. From that moment on, I made it my mission.”

Campagna said there is a full-time staff at the house, but they still depend on volunteers to help with resident activities.

Volunteers perform services ranging from yard maintenance to cooking dinners for the residents and walking the house therapy dog, Shasta.

Scot Hook, a senior biochemistry major at Western, has been a regular volunteer at the house for a year. In addition to cooking dinner, Hook gives residents piano lessons once a week.

Hook said even the simple things like cooking can be rewarding.

“There’s one resident who is picky about his food, and the first time he really enjoyed what I cooked, I was super happy about that,” Hook said.

Hook got involved with the Sean Humphrey House after he met Campagna at a volunteering fair at Western.

“I didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS before I got there, but I’ve become really passionate and educated about the topic,” Hook said. “It’s given me more of a mature perspective on HIV/AIDS.”

More than their actions, Sykes said, it’s volunteers’ attitudes that are important.

“It’s not just the duties they perform, it’s the zeal and the commitment with which they do those things,” Sykes said.

Senior Scot Hook cooks meals for residents Sunday, April 23. // Photo courtesy of Jeanette Campagna

While Hook likes his duties as a volunteer, he said learning about the people who live there is the most enjoyable part.

“Learning [the residents’] stories is the coolest part, getting to know these fascinating people,” Hook said. “I leave every day smiling, no matter what kind of day I’m having. I just feel like that was three hours I couldn’t have spent in a better way.”

The Sean Humphrey House is planning its 10th annual Cinco de Mayo celebration, one of its biggest fundraisers. Fundraisers like this are important for benefit organizations like the Sean Humphrey House, which Sykes said faces funding challenges.

According to a Proposed Senate 2017-19 Operating Budget, adult family homes in Washington could be faced with a 2 percent increase in vendor rates on July 1, 2017.

“One of the things we’re working on is helping legislators understand that adult family homes are important for long-term care,” Sykes said.

The Sean Humphrey House will host its Cinco de Mayo celebration at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6. The fundraiser will include a dinner, raffle and silent auction.

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